When racetracks want to squeeze more money out of customers they raise the takeout, as Keeneland has done this fall. Las Vegas has its own version of this, "resort fees." These add-on charges started in the $10-$15 range. Visitors accepted the increases without meaningful pushback, so the hotels consistently increased these fees to as much as $40-plus per night and they seem to go up every year. This is why the Keeneland boycott must succeed. If it doesn't, racetracks everywhere will feel confident they can kick up their takeouts with impunity.

I’ve canceled my annual trip to Las Vegas for the Breeders’ Cup. Let me explain before you ask why you should care?

The reason for my change of plans has a parallel to the ongoing Keeneland boycott. Las Vegas hotels have instituted a ripoff called resort fees. I can’t pinpoint exactly when they were created but I’m fairly certain it was within the past 10 years.

In the beginning, they were in the $10-$15 range and only at the high-end properties. Several hotels held out, trumpeting “NO resort fees” in their advertising. Alas, the holdouts quickly came to realize tourists were unfazed by the surcharge, possibly because there already are so many hidden add-ons in Las Vegas (like breakage at the track) the latest one went virtually unnoticed at checkout time.

One by one the holdout hotels instituted their own resort fees, which were justified by “free” use of amenities (swimming pool, gym, etc.) that had always been free and still are at cut-rate motels on any interstate. The resort fees are just another unjustified way to reach deep into uncomplaining customer's pockets.

As the resort fees became universal, the higher end hotels realized they could jack up their own tariffs even higher. From $10-$15, the Bellagio now adds $44.22 per night to its average $300 rate, according to Vegas.com. You would think for $300 a night, the pool would be free. Ceasar’s Palace and the MGM Grand tack on $39.68 per night. The Hard Rock, which isn’t even on The Strip, adds $35.15.

What really hurts is the downtown properties, the Golden Nugget ($27.50) and Downtown Grand ($25.99) have fallen into line after being leaders of the resist the resort tax movement.

My personal favorite, South Point, which is racing fan friendly, is a comparative bargain at $21. But last year, it was $14. This is why I said, “Enough is enough.”

Making these fees more pernicious is unlike room rates, which vary from weekdays to weekends, the resort fees are a constant, seven days a week, no cut-rates for weekdays or slow periods.

Hopefully, the connection to the Keeneland boycott is obvious. If this protest of elevated takeout rates fizzles, tracks everywhere will conclude, rightfully so, that they can do what they want without serious ramifications. It will be just like the resort fees in Las Vegas. The limit will be whatever those in charge decide. Someone in the comments section this week said Churchill Downs got away with raising its rates. This is exactly why Keeneland felt brazen enough to follow suit.

If Keeneland is brought to heel, other tracks will think twice before raising their own prices.

The boycott is succeeding, as John Pricci demonstrated with real figures in his most recent column. Now is not the time to taper off. The pedal must be kept to the metal for two more weeks.

A grand start for 2018

Win some, lose some. In a refreshing change, news from the camps of four champions is mostly positive.

The winners of this spring’s Triple Crown races, Always Dreaming, Cloud Computing and Tapwrit are all being pointed to 2018 campaigns. This is especially good news for the Eastern half of the country, where all three are based. The handicap division on the right side of the Mississippi has been in a downward cycle in recent years, with few genuine stars.

It has become rare for even the Kentucky Derby champion to race as a 4-year-old. It’s only happened five times this millennium. Only once this century, in 2011, have three different winners of the Triple Crown events—Animal Kingdom, Shackleford and Ruler on Ice--come back as older horses.

It will be interesting to see if any of the Triple Crown trio deign to take a shot at the 2018 Pegasus, the first big event of the new year—assuming it happens. In announcing the return of Always Dreaming, who was said to be suffering from ulcers, Todd Pletcher mentioned a spring campaign with the Met Mile the key objective. (Horsemen have more reverence for the Met Mile than NYRA, which has relegated it to a Belmont Stakes undercard race.)

Inasmuch as Always Dreaming, who won the Florida Derby before the Kentucky Derby, is undefeated at Gulfstream, it might be worth taking a look at the Pegasus, especially if it is lacking in star power.

On the negative side, Eclipse Juvenile champion Classic Empire has been retired. After winning four of five, including the BC Juvenile, as a 2-year-old, physical and mental issues bedeviled him as a sophomore. The highlights of a four-race campaign were a triumph in the Arkansas Derby and a second in the Preakness, which turned out to be his final race. Mark Casse has been trying for months to get Classic Empire back to the races but never could get a handle on a recurring foot abscess.

If there is one small downside to the three Triple Crown race winners coming back it is that Pletcher also trains Tapwrit. So it is unlikely that he and Always Dreaming will be in the same starting gate unless both make it to next year’s Breeders’ Cup.

On the other hand, one or the other would dress up any race in which they were entered and separating them doubles these possibilities.

Janney tells off Pa.

Good for Stuart Janney. The chairman of the Jockey Club is standing his ground in a war of words with Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding, who is also chairman of his state’s racing commission.

At the annual Round Table in August, Janney went off on the disgraceful lack of oversight in Pennsylvania, saying officials were asleep at the wheel and the scandals in the Keystone State were giving the entire racing industry a black eye.

Redding became the odds-on favorite for the Chutzpah of the Year Award, calling Janney irresponsible for saying such a thing and demanding an apology.

Janney fired back that maybe the fact that Penn National trainer Murray Rojas was found guilty of 14 counts of race manipulation and that a colleague, Stephanie Beattie, said under oath that 95-98% of trainers at the track had vets administer forbidden drugs on race day. “It was a known practice,” Beattie said.

Apparently one of the few to whom it was not known is Redding, whose job is to know such things. It's astutely said, the dumbest people are those who don't know what they don't know.


Miami, Oct. 19, 2017